Author: Randeep Singh / go to all articles on Yoga Concepts
Soul, Individual Consciousness attributes, kinds & Purpose
Soul, or individual consciousness,
as against the universal consciousness,
known as Purusha in Samkhya Philosophy,
is known as Atma in Indian traditions.
The word Atma is derived form
the verb “Ata”, which denotes
“that which goes on continuously”.
Atma is synonymous with the concept
of soul and is different from the word self and ego.
Self represents the total personality of an individual,
while ego represents what a person feels about self.
As per Samkhya there exist multiple individual souls (consciousness) and not one universal soul, or consciousness. The universal soul, as well as the Individual soul represent the essence of life or life principle without which life cannot thrive in the material form.
Unlike universal soul, the Individual soul remains entangled with the mind, Intellect, and sense organs, body and its functions as a single living unit. The mind, intellect (buddhi), and the sense organs in an individual are the instruments of the living being ( life in material form) for acquiring knowledge.
Indian philosophers believe that the individual soul of a living organism is a part of the universal soul (brahma), and it must be liberated – attain Moksha – from the material universe so that it can re-merge with the universal soul.
Proofs that Soul, Individual Consciousness Exist
The following arguments convinces one that living creatures are different from inanimate machines. immediately after death the entire body with all its organs and systems ceases to function though there is no structural change in the body.
All the organ systems cease to function almost simultaneously as if their was some thing, or element which had kept their functions integrated as a one whole living individual, has been pulled out of the body.
If their was no single integrating, binding factor within the body, which leaves the body at death, the individual, independent organ systems should have continued to function for different durations even after the individual had been declared dead. In fact, in this scenario, the definition of death, of a single unit of life as in an individual, would be difficult to ascertain till the last organ system remains functional.
Thus, the cessation of life after death means that for remaining alive some vital element is essential. This vital element or essential life principle is termed as soul. Secondly, man and all the living creatures are undergoing a process of continuous change in the body as well as the mind.
The body and all the organs undergo tremendous changes over a period of time, so much so that an old man would not be able to recognize his own photographs of infancy and childhood.
Even a mother would not recognize her son if she sees him after a lapse of years. Mind also changes every moment. For Example, one may see Jack in an angry frame of mind at one moment and as a very contented person the next moment.
One is often surprised at the changed personality of the same person and one wonders whether he is the same Jack whom one had seen previously. The question then arises as to why one individual should be called Jack when his body and mind and changing continuously.
What is constant in him for him to be Jack, when Jack as a boy looks so different from Jack as a grand father? It is the same life principle or soul, individual consciousness which doesn’t change but continues from birth to death which makes him Jack
Qualities of the Soul, Individual Consciousness
The qualities of the soul, individual consciousness as given in the scriptures are as follows: The soul is immortal and eternal. It cannot be burnt, destroyed or killed. The soul principle is all pervading, it pervades everything.
The soul principle is the same in all living organisms from amoeba to man. There is no difference between the souls of the two sexes. The soul is not attached to any object, person, or worldly affairs. The soul acts as an impartial witness to all the deeds, desires etc. of the body and the mind.
As the soul is the source of and radiates knowledge and happiness, by itself it does not require the help of intellect, mind, and sense organs for acquiring the same.
However, living creatures within who the individual consciousness, soul is present are unable to experience this knowledge and happiness but remain entangled within the knowledge and happiness as created by the sense organs, mind, and the intellect which form the part of the body. In order to understand individual consciousness one should first grasp the idea of universal consciousness.
The soul principle is the same in all living creatures, the acquisition of knowledge which leads to happiness via the sense organs, mind, and the intellect depends on the degree of development of these bodily instruments of acquiring knowledge from the material world as evolved from Prakriti.
This explains the difference between the knowledge of amoeba and the man. The supreme knowledge and happiness which is inherent in one’s soul, individual consciousness can be realized occasionally only by someone who has evolved the mind and the intellect to higher degrees.
The mind and the intellect which receive and interpret the information received from the sense organs as knowledge, if impure and underdeveloped, act like a maze through which the real individual soul, located beyond them, cannot be experienced by the individual.
A pure mind and superior intellect help dissipate this maze so that the individual can experience the real individual consciousness and its attributes of supreme happiness and knowledge.
The maze as mentioned comprises of all the distraction and disturbances which prevent the mind from being steady, all the desires, aversions, instincts, emotions, attachments, and expectations. Once the individual has rid oneself of these obstructions, Ashtanga yoga being one of the ways, one becomes ready to understand and appreciate the real qualities of the soul.
The individual soul principle gets restricted to one body because of the individual’s own desires and aversions, actions and fruits of actions in the past lives. Man is known by the company he keeps. Similarly the soul principle though pure by itself is known by the company of mind and body with which it is associated.
Philosophy of Soul, Individual Consciousness
Among philosophers and psychologists who study consciousness, there are many different opinions in answer to the question ‘what is consciousness? One reason why consciousness is so puzzling to science is that while it certainly depends on the brain, it seems to be very different sort of thing from what is actually going on in the brain in terms of brain cell activity.
For example, when a flower is present in one’s consciousness, there is nothing remotely like a flower actually in one’s brain. And the links that your mind makes from one conscious thought or image to another seem to follow a logic that does not correspond to the physical law that govern brain processes.
This kind of reasoning has led some philosophers to think of consciousness as a non-physical thing – a sort of spiritual container in which your thoughts, emotions, experiences and so on take place. They have argued that one has unique access to one’s own conscious container: only the owner of the container can look inside it and his knowledge of its contents is infallible.
There is no other part of the physical world one has this special access to. A neuroscientist may have much better knowledge of what is going on inside one’s brain from a physical point of view than one does – but he would still have no access to one’s conscious experiences. This proves that one’s consciousness is not part of the physical world.
Idealism defines consciousness: Mind or spirit is the only thing that exists – the material world is the illusion produced by it. Consciousness therefore does not need to be explained in physical terms.
Rene Descartes (1596-1650) was one philosopher who thought of consciousness in this way. The philosophical theory named after him, Cartesian dualism, separates the world into two distinct realms – the physical realm inhabited by atoms, molecules, tables, chairs, and human bodies, and the mental realm which souls, individual consciousnesses inhabit and where conscious thoughts and experiences take place.
The only problem with this theory is that it separates the universe in two non-connected realms which is not possible as seen from the practical experiences of the same. The mind and body function as a single connected unit and not separately.
Science of Soul, Individual Consciousness
Science generally agree today that the workings of the conscious mind – thoughts, perceptions, and awareness of emotions – are linked to physical events in the brain.
The human brain is a massive network of interconnected neurons. Each part of the network processes a particular type of information: some sections deal with particular emotions, others with sensory stimuli, memory, language and so on.
And within each of these sub-networks, individual neurons are specialized to deal with even more narrowly focused tasks: for example, in the visual system particular cells respond only to the color red. The full complexity of human thought and emotion – what we call mind – arises when many of these sub-networks interact.
One theory (by DNA pioneer Francis Crick) about what happens when information is fed into this network is as follows. Imagine there is an object – say a grapefruit – in the left side of a person’s visual field. The neurons concerned with this information begin to fire. These include neurons that respond to the color yellow and the neurons that respond to a round shape.
A person – lets call her Susan – is watching television and not paying attention to the grapefruit. The ‘yellow’ and ’round’ neurons in her brain fire relatively slowly, their activity dies away quickly, and the grapefruit does not contribute to her conscious state. But then the grapefruit captures Susan’s attention. T
he neurons concerned get very excited, firing faster and faster. When they fire around 40 times a second (40 Hz), the ‘yellow’ neurons detect that the ’round’ neurons are like them, very agitated, and the two groups of neurons pool their information.
The result is a perception of ‘grapefruit’, rather than just ‘yellow’ and ’round’. As long as the grapefruit remains the object of Susan’s attention, messages will continue to flow back and forth between the two groups of neurons.
If this synchrony lasts about a fifth of a second, the grapefruit will become a conscious perception. But if the synchrony degenerates in less time, the perceptions will not reach Susan’s consciousness, even though her brain has absorbed the information unconsciously.
This sort of perception is known as ‘subliminal’.
Attention and Consciousness
So to be fully conscious of something – to be able to look back and know that it happened – we need to pay attention to it. Attention is rather like a search light: it focuses the brain, mind on a small patch of a vast information field by enhancing activity in the neurons concerned with that patch. When we attend to something other perceptions drop out of consciousness.
The spotlight of attention flits around, yet our perceptions are bound together into our personal experience of the moment. This binding is done by the sense of ‘me’ or ego (ahamkara), which is at the center of perception is a crucial component of conscious experience.
The brain mechanisms responsible for the sense of self, ahamkara, are not fully understood by modern science yet. The role of ‘me’, ‘ego’ or ‘ahamkara’ in perception is explained in Samkhya Philosophy.
Modern science makes an assumption that the are of the brain responsible for the sense of self seems to reside in a circuit that runs between the frontal lobes of the brain, which deal with the abstract ideas, and the language areas of the left hemisphere.
This circuit weaves a continual story – the narrative self. As long as the narrative is running, experience can be integrated into the stream of consciousness. But when those circuits are inactive, information processing in other areas of the brain cease to be ‘owned’ by the individual and therefore cannot be described.
Meditation, on the other hand is a program of mental behaviors to slow down the frantic rush of thoughts and sensations that typify waking consciousness.
This type of practice can take many forms, it may involve focusing the mind on a thought, an image, a sensation such as breathing, or an imagined sound such as an mantra as practiced in mantra meditation. The aim of meditation is to rid the mind of content so that only pure awareness remains, which is the actual essence of the soul, or the consciousness.
Kinds of Consciousness, Awareness factor
The need of the human being to adapt to the changing environment combined with the aspiration to sense it more precisely has been responsible for the evolution of the nervous system.
The three basic forms of consciousness are ‘Brain stem consciousness’, ‘Limbic system consciousness’, and ‘Cortical consciousness’. “brain stem consciousness” is manifested in the form of wakefulness, sleep, awareness of the surrounding, orientation in relation to time, space, and person.
“Limbic system consciousness” is manifested in the form of motivated guided consciousness to seek pleasure and avoid the unpleasant, the basic motivation (instincts) being thirst, hunger, and sex. “Cortical consciousness is self-consciousness. In Cortical consciousness there is no motive behind an act, the act is selfless.
Either of the forms of consciousness could predominate. When the “Brain stem consciousness” predominates, it is manifested in the form of excessive awareness of the surroundings. When the “Limbic system consciousness” predominates, one becomes selfish and mainly concerned about one’s own pleasure, doing anything for their sensual gratification, and not even stopping at homicide, suicide, sadism, etc.
There is the fourth dimension known as ” Supra cortical consciousness” or “Cosmic consciousness” or “Spiritual consciousness”. This is manifested in the form of pure love, the only visible sign of which is sacrifice for the beloved.
Love then exudes in all cortical activities, may it be literature or science, art or commerce, logic or theosophy, social work or politics. The whole History of Biology is of an evolving consciousness which has achieved ” Cortical Consciousness” in the human being.
The organic consciousness ( soul or the individual consciousness) is linked to the cosmic or universal consciousness. This link keeps the individual alive and when it is severed individual existence vanishes. There is no rebirth for the individual, there is only a cycle of consciousness.
When an individual dies his total individual consciousness (soul) vanishes into cosmic consciousness. It may take form again when its frequency / vibration/energy happens to be in equilibrium with that of the cloud of consciousness of an ovum during fertilization.
The person is not reborn, but his total consciousness takes new biological form to evolve in another cycle.
Difference between Universal Soul & Individual Soul
Universal Soul : Omnipresent
Individual Soul : Presence is restricted to one’s body, because of its attachments to mind and body.
Universal Soul : Universal principle.
Individual Soul : Though seemingly different, part of universal soul principle.
Universal Soul : Immortal and has no beginning or end.
Individual Soul : Birth and death apparently mark the beginning and end of that particular life. The soul by itself is immortal.
Universal Soul : Represents supreme consciousness i.e. awareness of the entire universe.
Individual Soul : Because of its association with mind consciousness is restricted to that of an individual.
Universal Soul : It represents universal knowledge in all its forms. Hence it does not need instruments like mind and intellect to acquire knowledge.
Individual Soul : Mind, intellect, and sense organs are the instruments of the individual to acquire knowledge. Hence knowledge is restricted, dependent upon the level of the intellect.
Universal Soul : Doesn’t get entangled with anything. Therefore, impartial and unattached.
Individual Soul : Soul gets entangled with mind, intellect, sense organs and the body. Hence desires and aversions, actions, passions and delusions which originate in mind get attached indirectly to the soul. hence individual gets interested in and attached to worldly affairs.
Universal Soul : Represents supreme happiness, no sorrow.
Individual Soul : Happiness and sorrow both exist because of its association with the mind.
Universal Soul : Independent.
Individual Soul ; It is dependent on mind, intellect, body, environment, and societal conditions.
Universal Soul : Makes, thinks of, knows about and witnesses the entire universe.
Individual Soul : Makes, thinks, knows about and observes the individual.
Universal Soul : Root cause of the entire universe.
Individual Soul : Root cause of the past present and future lives.
Universal Soul : Represents the entire knowledge, consciousness and happiness of the universe, Hence cannot be perceived and thought of by ordinary human mind and intellect.
Individual Soul : The knowledge, consciousness, happiness, aversions and activities of the individuals can be easily perceived and thought of by human mind.